From Union Square in NYC to Union Square in SF, on April 1st community groups in 13 cities throughout the US plus one in Canada will participate in simultaneous demonstrations, street theatre, music and dance performances, direct action, and public education in defense of… poor people’s Right To Exist in public spaces.
1982 marked the beginning of homelessness as a “crime wave” that would consume the efforts of US police forces over the next three decades. Crime statistics show that across the country, millions were sitting, lying down, hanging out, and—perhaps worst of all—sleeping. Reviewing just one city‘s example, at the end of 2011 these new crimes comprised roughly one third of all prosecuted offenses in San Francisco.
We all suffer from governments that waste resources and refuse to develop real solutions to social problems, but the people whose survival is criminalized suffer the most.
Property and business owners are creating private “Business Improvement Districts” (BIDs) to police downtown areas across the country. The stated goal is to “improve” these neighborhoods for “visitors and businesses.” The effect is to remove “undesirable elements” from downtown business and tourist centers. BIDs hire security teams (sometimes ironically called Ambassadors) that patrol public spaces, often augmented by off-duty, uniformed officers with full police authority.
Over the past year we have compiled and documented 706 homeless people’s interactions with local police, private security guards, and the criminal justice system in 13 cities. All respondents participated in the surveys for the opportunity to speak “unfiltered” to the broader community about what is really happening on our nation’s streets to poor, disabled, and homeless community members.
More than three-quarters of survey respondents (78%) reported being harassed, cited or arrested by police officers for sleeping outside, and 76% for loitering or simply “hanging out.” 75% reported the same for sitting or lying down. These were far and away the top crimes for which homeless people were charged. A sad corresponding fact is that only one quarter of respondents (25%) believed that they knew of safe, legal places to sleep.
CIVIL RIGHTS DEMANDS:
• End policies that allow for the creation of local business improvement
zones to enforce “nuisance” or “quality of life” laws in public space.
End policy’s that allow the enforcement of “nuisance” or “quality of
life” laws by local police departments in public space. Both entities criminalize and remove homeless, poor, people of color, and disabled members of our communities.
• Ensure that all homeless children in Public School, estimated at close to 1 million students are able to stay in their home schools and have all the supports needed to do so with dignity.
• Stop any and all questions regarding a person’s immigration status when they are requesting housing, healthcare, education, emergency services or shelter.